LONDON: Armed police fired shots after reports of stabbings and a van hitting pedestrians on London Bridge on Saturday in an incident reminiscent of a terror attack in March just days ahead of a general election.
Police said a “major incident” was underway.
“From 2208 hours (2108 GMT) officers responded to reports of a vehicle in collision with pedestrians on London Bridge,” police said in a statement.
“Officers have then responded to reports of stabbings in Borough Market,” at the south end of the bridge.
“Armed officers responded and shots have been fired.” police said.
Police officers were also responding to a third incident “in the Vauxhall area,” which is also on the south side of the River Thames and home to the MI6 foreign intelligence agency.
Prime Minister Theresa May called the events in London a “potential act of terrorism”.
She will hold an emergency ministerial meeting later on Sunday and Facebook has activated its safety check function for people in London to let their loved ones know they are safe.
The incidents happened with Britain still reeling from a bomb attack in the northern town of Manchester last week in which 22 people were killed.
They also came just days before Britain goes to the polls for a general election on Thursday.
Witnesses on London Bridge reported seeing a van mounting the pavement and hitting pedestrians and a man with a knife running.
“There was a van that crashed into the fences on London Bridge. And then there was a man with a knife, he was running. He came down the stairs and went to the bar,” Dee, 26, who was visibly in shock and declined to give her last name, told AFP.
Gerard Kavanar, 46, said he had seen a chef with “blood on his shoulder” in the area.
The London Ambulance Service said “multiple resources” were being sent to the scene.
The police were urging the public to run to a place of safety, or hide if they cannot.
AFP reporters saw two police helicopters over the area and several roads were shut down.
Will Heaven, managing editor of The Spectator magazine, said on Twitter that he saw “two casualties — one on pavement, one edge of road” and reported seeing armed police on the bridge.
BBC reporter Holly Jones, who was there at the time of the incident, said she saw a van driven by a man travelling “at about 50 miles (80 kilometres) an hour”.
She said about five people were being treated for injuries after the vehicle mounted the pavement and hit them.
“There’s several police boats with torchlights searching the Thames at the moment,” she told BBC radio.
She added that she saw a man, who had his shirt off and was in handcuffs, being arrested by police.
Another witness, Alessandro, told BBC radio that he saw a van strike several people on London Bridge.
“I saw this van going left and right, left and right, trying to catch as many people as he could. And people just tried to get out of the way of the van.
“Then I tried to help people, wounded people.”
Of the casualties, he said: “Three of them, yes (were conscious), and one guy was not talking at all, was just, like, down.”
“There were five or six people that we tried to help, they were young people.”
His friend Giovanni said he contacted police and the ambulance services, which arrived within around two minutes.
Simon Johnson, who had been near London Bridge, told Sky News he had hid in the basement of a restaurant in the area for about an hour.
“Still in a state of shock to be honest,” Johnson said.
Husband and wife Ben and Natalie told BBC Radio 5 Live they were outside Borough Market when they witnessed the incident there.
Ben said: “We saw people running away and then I saw a man in red with a large blade, at a guess 10 inches long, stabbing a man, about three times.
“It looked like the man had been trying to intervene, but there wasn’t much he could do. He was being stabbed quite coldly and he slumped to the ground.”
Ben said the man then walked towards the Southwark Tavern. He said they saw a metal chair being thrown towards the man.
“Then we heard three gunshots, definitely gunshots, and we ran.”
The incident is reminiscent of the March 22 Westminster Bridge terror attack in the city in which five people were killed and more than 50 wounded.
The assailant in that attack, 52-year-old British Muslim convert Khalid Mahmood, rammed his car into pedestrians before crashing into the barriers surrounding parliament and then stabbing a police officer to death.
He was then shot dead by police at the scene. Investigators later described the lone-wolf attack as “Islamist related terrorism”.
It also comes less than two weeks after 22 people, including seven children, were killed in a suicide bombing at the end of a pop concert at the Manchester Arena.
Manchester-born Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old of Libyan origin, was named as the Manchester bomber.